Brewer may attempt to fire redistricting chair again - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Brewer may attempt to fire redistricting chair again

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Posted: Friday, November 18, 2011 5:30 pm | Updated: 4:01 pm, Tue Nov 22, 2011.

Gov. Jan Brewer may make another attempt as early as this coming week to fire the chairwoman of the Independent Redistricting Commission.

The governor said Friday her attorneys are studying the brief order issued late Thursday by the Arizona Supreme Court voiding the governor's Nov. 1 decision to fire Colleen Mathis. She said all options are on the table - including recrafting the letter she sent to Mathis firing her in a way that might pass court muster.

And Brewer said she also is weighing whether to ask the high court for a restraining order to block the commission from giving final approval to its draft maps - the ones she and other Republicans find objectionable - while she considers what to do next.

Quick action by Brewer and the Senate, which would have to ratify any new move to oust Mathis, may be necessary.

Ray Bladine, the commission's executive director, said that panelists are likely to get together the week of Nov. 28 to review the comments made by the public to those draft maps of the state's 30 legislative and nine congressional districts. And that could pave the way for final approval by the end of that week, making any new move to fire Mathis - and force creation of new maps - legally meaningless.

But there is support building, at least among Republicans, for another option, one that would also be a long-term fix for what they see as problems with the commission: Ask voters who first approved creation of the commission in 2000 to now scrap it - and soon.

Rep. Terry Proud, R-Tucson, said she wants a special legislative session to put the issue on the ballot in the next few months. Then, if voters go along, it would let lawmakers themselves draw the maps for their own legislative districts as well as the congressional districts in time for the 2012 election.

Voters approved creation of the commission in the first place on a 56-44 margin amid complaints that legislators drew lines to preserve their incumbency and those of their own party and disadvantage their political foes. The idea was to create a five-member panel that would be independent of lawmakers and constitutionally required not to consider where incumbents live when performing the task of drawing new lines after every decennial census.

But Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, said he thinks voters can be convinced that the experiment has failed, especially given all of the allegations leveled against Mathis.

"With what has been happening, a lot of people think the system has been corrupt," said Antenori, the new Senate majority whip.

As approved, the 2000 ballots measure requires the top elected House and Senate Democrats and Republicans to each choose a commission member. Those four panelists then select a fifth who cannot be registered with either major political party.

But Republicans say that Mathis hid her partisan leanings during the screening process - it was later revealed her husband worked to reelect a Democratic state representative - and then, once selected, sided with Democrats on crucial matters.

In one instance, she voted with the Democrats to deny the two Republican commissioners their choice of an attorney; the Democratic commissioners got their choice. And Mathis provided the crucial vote to select a consulting firm with strong Democratic ties to help draw the maps.

The process of awarding that contract also resulted in one of the charges that Brewer leveled against Mathis. The governor said she violated the state's Open Meeting Law by calling other commission members to both line up the votes for Strategic Telemetry and ensure that it got a perfect evaluation score.

The governor was noncommittal when asked about trying to overturn the 2000 vote.

"I always will continue to respect the voters' action," Brewer said. But the governor said she is more focused right now on why the court ruled the way it did.

In their brief order, the justices said that Brewer's Nov. 1 letter to Mathis, "does not demonstrate substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, or inability to discharge the duties of office." Those are the only reasons in the constitution that a governor can fire a commissioner.

Brewer noted, though, the justices did not say what would be legal and how she could fire Mathis in a way to satisfy the court.

It is possible the ruling means the court believes the offenses Brewer outlined - violating the Open Meeting Law and preparing congressional maps in an unconstitutional manner - do not fit within the scope of that constitutional authority. But Senate President-elect Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, said he reads the ruling to mean only that the letter from Brewer to Mathis did not sufficiently detail the grounds for the firing.

"I believe it could be fixed with a better letter," he said. "They're working on that right now."

Both Brewer and Pierce said the possibility of a Thanksgiving-week special session remains unanswered for the time being.

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